Category: Alumni

Husky Bites Returns! Join us Monday, Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. (ET).

Looking good!

Craving some brain food, but not a full meal? Join us for a Bite!

Grab some dinner with College of Engineering Dean Janet Callahan and special guests at 6 p.m. (ET) each Monday during Husky Bites, a free interactive Zoom webinar, followed by Q&A. Have some fun, learn a few things, and connect with one another as Huskies and friends. Everyone is welcome!

Husky Bites Spring 2021 series kicks off this Monday (January 25) with “Ski – Score – Spike! Student Athletes at Michigan Tech,” presented by three head coaches: Tom Monahan Smith (Nordic), Sam Hoyt (women’s basketball) and Matt Jennings (volleyball). Joining in will be Suzanne Sanregret, Michigan Tech’s Director of Athletics. They’ll be talking about the tremendous quality of our student athletes, recruiting, academic/mental wellness, share a day in the life of an athlete, and tell us how they cope with COVID-19 challenges, too.

“We created Husky Bites for anyone who likes to learn, across the universe,” says Dean Callahan. “We aim to make it very interactive, with a ‘quiz’ (in Zoom that’s a multiple choice poll), about every five minutes. Everyone is welcome, and bound to learn something new. Entire families enjoy it. We have prizes, too, for attendance.” 

The series features special guests—engineering professors, students, and even some Michigan Tech alumni, who each share a mini lecture, or “bite”.

This spring, topics include Backyard Metals, Cybersecurity, Enterprise, Fishing, Music, Lake Superior, the Mackinac Bridge, Migratory Birds, Snow, Sports, Stents, and Volcanoes.

During Husky Bites, special guests also weave in their own personal journey in engineering, science and more.

Have you joined us yet for Husky Bites? We’d love to hear from you. Join Husky Bites a little early on Zoom, starting at 5:45 pm, for some extra conversation. Write your comments, questions or feedback in Chat. Or stay after for the Q&A. Sometimes faculty get more than 50 questions, but they do their best to answer them all, either during the session, or after, via email.

“Grab some supper, or just flop down on your couch. This family friendly event is BYOC (Bring Your Own Curiosity).”

Dean Janet Callahan

Get the full scoop and schedule at mtu.edu/huskybites. Check out past sessions, there, too. You can also catch Husky Bites on the College of Engineering Facebook page.

Want a taste of Husky Bites? Check out a few comments from special guests, heard during past sessions:

I have always been interested in building things — long before I knew that was called “engineering.” I don’t recall when I became fascinated with space but it was at a very early age. I have embarrassing photos of me dressed as an astronaut for halloween and I may still even have an adult-sized astronaut costume somewhere in my closet — not saying. The desire to explore space is what drives me. Very early in my studies I realized that the biggest impediment to space exploration is propulsion. Space is just so big it’s hard to get anywhere. So I dedicated my professional life to developing new space propulsion technologies. There is other life in our solar system. That is a declarative statement. It’s time that we find it. The moons of Jupiter and Saturn hold great promise and I’m determined to see proof in my lifetime.

Prof. Brad King, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics

I loved watching a beautiful image of planet Earth, one with a very clear sky and blue water, during my high school days. However, as I began to learn how life on Earth suffers many difficult environmental problems, including air pollution and water contamination, I also learned that environmental engineers can be leaders who help solve the Earth’s most difficult sustainability problems. That is when I decided to become an engineer. In my undergraduate curriculum, the water quality and treatment classes I took were the toughest subjects to get an A. I had to work the hardest to understand the content. So, naturally, I decided to enter this discipline as I got to know about water engineering more. And then, there’s our blue planet, the image. Water makes the Earth look blue from space. 

Prof. Daisuke Minakata, Civil and Environmental Engineering

I was born and raised in the City of Detroit. I went to Detroit Public Schools, and when I went to college I had to work to make ends meet. I got a job as a cook in the dorm, and eventually worked my way up to lead cook. I was cooking breakfast for 1,200 people each morning. One of my fellow classmates was studying engineering, too. He had a job working for a professor doing research on storm waves and beaches. I had no idea I could be hired by a professor and get paid money to work on the beach! I quit my job in the kitchen soon after, and went to work for that professor instead. I had been a competitive swimmer in high school, and the beach was where I really wanted to be. When I graduated with my degree, having grown up in Detroit, I went to work for Ford. I have to thank my first boss for assigning me to work on rear axle shafts. After about two months, I called my former professor, to see if I could come back to college. My advice for students just starting out is to spend your first year exploring all your options. Find out what you really want to do. I had no idea I could turn a mechanical engineering degree into a job working on the beach. Turns out, I could⁠—and I’m still doing it today.

Prof. Guy Meadows, Mechanical Engineering, Great Lakes Research Center

I first became interested in engineering in high school when I learned it was a way to combine math and science to solve problems. I loved math and science and thought that sounded brilliant. However, I didn’t understand at the time what that really meant. I thought “problems” meant the types of problems you solve in math class. Since then I’ve learned these problems are major issues that are faced by all of humanity, such as: ‘How do we enable widespread access to clean energy? How do we produce sufficient amounts of safe vaccines and medicine, particularly in a crisis? How do we process food products, while maintaining safety and nutritional quality?’ As a chemical engineer I am able to combine my love of biology, chemistry, physics, and math to create fresh new solutions to society’s problems. One thing I love about MTU is that the university gives students tons of hands-on opportunities to solve real problems, not just problems out of a textbook (though we still do a fair number of those!). These are the types of problems our students will be solving when they go on to their future careers.

Prof. Rebecca Ong, Chemical Engineering

My Dad ran a turn-key industrial automation and robotics business throughout most of my childhood. In fact, I got my first job at age 12 when I was sequestered at home with strep throat. I felt fine, but couldn’t go to school. My Dad put me to work writing programs for what I know now are Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs); the ‘brains’ of most industrial automation systems. Later, I was involved with Odyssey of the Mind and Science Olympiad. I also really liked these new things called ‘personal computers’ and spent quite a bit of time programming them. By the time I was in high school I was teaching classes at the local library on computer building, repair, and this other new thing called ‘The Internet’. A career in STEM was a certainty. I ended up in engineering because I like to build things (even if only on a computer) and I like to solve problems (generally with computers and math). 

Prof. Jeremy Bos, Electrical and Computer Engineering

The factors that got me interesting engineering revolved around my hobbies. First it was through BMX bikes and the changes I noticed in riding frames made from aluminum rather than steel. Next it was rock climbing, and realizing that the hardware had to be tailor made and selected to accommodate the type of rock or the type or feature within the rock. Here’s a few examples: Brass is the optimal choice for crack systems with small quartz crystals. Steel is the better choice for smoothly tapered constrictions. Steel pins need sufficient ductility to take on the physical shape of a seam or crack. Aluminum cam lobes need to be sufficiently soft to “bite” the rock, but robust enough to survive repeated impact loads. Then of course there is the rope—what an interesting marvel—the rope has to be capable of dissipating the energy of a fall so the shock isn’t transferred to the climber. Clearly, there is a lot of interesting materials science and engineering going on!

Prof. Erik Herbert, Materials Science and Engineering

Engineering Alumni Activity Spring 2021

Shannon Kobs Nawotniak
Shannon Kobs Nawotniak

Michigan Tech alumna Shannon Kobs Nawotniak, (BS geology, ’03), an associate professor at Idaho State University, presents on “Submarines, Volcanoes, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life” at Muskegon Community College. A graduate of Michigan Tech and SUNY Buffalo, Kobs Nawotniak serves as Geology Co-Lead on the NASA FINESSE project and Deputy Principal Investigator on the NASA BASALT project, both of which use terrestrial lavas to investigate planetary volcanoes.

Mike Olosky
Mike Olosky

Michigan Tech alumnus Mike Olosky (ME) has been named Chief Operating Officer of Simpson Strong-Tie. Olosky holds degrees in mechanical engineering from Michigan Technological University and Oakland University and received his MBA from Michigan State University’s Eli Broad School of Business.


Marty Lagina: Say YES to the Quest: Reflections, Energy and Adventure!

“Something interesting and different happened on that island, and we still aren’t sure what,” says Marty Lagina. Pictured above: Oak Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, August 1931. Format: glass plate negative.

Marty Lagina shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 23  at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

“Engineering school teaches you how things work, and also to know what you don’t know,” says Marty Lagina.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/23 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Marty Lagina, CEO of Heritage Sustainable Energy, winemaker, and creator and star of the long-running reality TV show, Curse of Oak Island.

Joining in as Dean Callahan’s co-host will be Bill Predebon, the JS Endowed Department Chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics at Michigan Tech.

Lagina is one of Dr. Predebon’s former students—as an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering, Lagina worked as his research assistant.

“If there’s ever been a human being, who if you cut him he bleeds Michigan Tech, that’s Bill Predebon,” says Lagina. 

Throughout his life, Lagina says his engineering education has given him the confidence to try new things.

“I was thinking of going to law school, and my father told me: ‘You would make a better lawyer if you knew how things worked.’ So I went to Michigan Tech to study engineering and I liked it. And it prepared me very well for what turned out to be a very multifaceted career.”

“When something interesting comes along, and it looks like fun, and it’s legal and ethical (even better if it’s good for society) and you might make some money—do it!”

Marty Lagina

Lagina graduated from Michigan Tech with his mechanical engineering degree in 1977, then took a job as a petroleum engineer for Amoco. A few years later, while attending law school at the University of Michigan, he worked as an independent petroleum engineer consultant, hired by various Michigan corporations to explore wells. “I was a law student, putting together oil deals, working out of a tiny room the size of a small walk-in closet,” he recalls.

“Our first 14 lost money, then we finally hit a decent well. It put us in business.” His partner in that first energy consulting business: Craig Tester, another Michigan Tech mechanical engineering graduate. They were college roommates.

A photo of Marty Lagina, from the Michigan Tech archives.

Once Lagina earned his JD, the two founded Terra Energy to pioneer the exploration and development of the Antrim shale natural gas resources of Michigan, which they did—successfully developing over $3 billion of oil and natural gas resources.

When he turned 40, Lagina decided to change course. He formed Heritage Sustainable Energy, a renewable energy provider. Heritage has successfully developed a series of wind and solar projects in Michigan, installing enough capacity to power the equivalent of 57,000 average Michigan homes every year.

Heritage operates a total of 139.2 megawatts (MW) of installed renewable energy capacity, with hundreds of MW in its project pipeline, along with a commitment to help reduce Michigan’s dependence on conventional energy sources.

Heritage Sustainable Energy’s Garden Solar Project is the first utility scale solar project in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The Garden Wind Farm, above, located north of the Village of Garden, will have 34 wind turbines by the end of this year.

In 2006, Lagina started doing some unnatural exploring to solve a 200–500 year old mystery. Featured on the History Channel, Lagina, his family and friends attempt to solve the “Curse of Oak Island,” based on the legend of a Nova Scotia island. 

“I’m the skeptic,” says Lagina. “My brother, Rick, is the optimist, but I’m the engineer who needs more proof.”

Part National Treasure, part Indiana Jones, the five-segment series follows their exploits as they attempt to—literally—get to the bottom of the ‘money pit’ on the island that has given up some clues, booby traps, bizarre hints and puzzle pieces. Theories of what is buried range from treasures from Solomon’s temple, the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar, or pirates.

First, they had to spend millions to purchase a controlling interest in the North Atlantic island. “And everything is difficult,” Lagina says. “It’s been dug at for 200-plus years, so you need to figure out if you are discovering something from the original works or not.”

Tester, an expert on drilling, resistivity, and more, also appears on The Curse of Oak Island.

Born in Kingsford on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Marty has spent nearly all his life living in Michigan. His background is in engineering and the energy business, but with family ties to one of Italy’s premier winegrowing areas, a passion for wine is in his blood.

He founded Mari Vineyards in 1999 (the same year he was inducted into Michigan Tech’s ME-EM Academy). His goal: to make world-class red wines in northern Michigan but with a nod to the Italian style of his ancestors. The winery’s namesake is Lagina’s Grandma Mari, an Italian immigrant who settled in the Iron Mountain area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Lagina is said to have fond memories of her creating wine in the basement of her home.

Marty’s Italian grandma, Teresa Mari, made wine her own wine at home. Her still—and her photo, above—are both on display at Mari Vineyards winery.

Mari Vineyards is situated on 60 acres in Traverse City. The winery is 100 percent carbon neutral and built from UP dolomite stone, dug from the bases of wind turbines. Lagina has unique growing methods, too—something he plans to share during his session of Husky Bites. As for the wine? “It’s good!” he says.

Mari Vineyards

“Winemaking is an art, but it’s also highly technical,” he adds. “My education at Michigan Tech is what gives me the confidence for innovation.”

Dr. Predebon, what do you do in your spare time?

“I’ve been at Michigan Tech since 1975. That’s 45 years this fall. I just finished 22 years as department chair. My work has absorbed my life, by choice. I have a real passion for our program. We do a good job of preparing engineers, with a heavy emphasis on hands-on education. 

Dr. Bill Predebon

“I have always enjoyed teaching, so the way I look at my role is to nurture the growth of my faculty and staff, right along with our students. I want to help them all reach their potential.

“That said, exercise is a big part of my life, too. I try to exercise every day. I mainly run on a treadmill and lift weights. My wife is an artist and a potter, and together we organically garden. Turns out you can grow anything here in the UP. My wife is very good; I just help. We have a peach tree, we have grown watermelon, we’ve grown cantaloupes, we’ve grown potatoes, her passion is pumpkins so we grow these large pumpkins—150 pounds.”

Dr. Predebon joined the faculty at Michigan Tech in 1975. He earned the Michigan Tech Distinguished Teaching Award in 1984, and became chair of the university’s largest department, Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, six years later.

Q&A with Gretchen Hein: Outstanding SWE Advisor at Michigan Tech

Could this be a future engineer exploring Dr. Gretchen Hein’s family farm?

In the words of Michigan Tech alumna Erin Murdoch, now an automation engineer at Kendall Electric: “I can’t think of anyone more deserving.”

Gretchen Hein is the recipient of a major award from the world’s largest advocate and catalyst for change for women in engineering and technology. During ceremonies held online earlier this month on November 5, 2020, Hein was honored by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), with the SWE Outstanding Advisor Award. 

Hein is a senior lecturer in the Department of Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering Technology and has served as the SWE Academic Advisor at Michigan Tech for the past 21 years. She teaches thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and first-year engineering courses. She joined the faculty after earning her PhD in Environmental Engineering at Michigan Tech.

Gretchen Hein

Dr. Hein, how did you first find engineering? What sparked your interest?

When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be a garbage collector because they let us ride through the neighborhood on the back of the truck. That’s also why I wanted to be a farmer—after haying, we were allowed to ride on top of the hay back to the barn. Later, when watching the Apollo Missions, I wanted to be an astronaut, riding on a spaceship. I said so at school, but it was the 1970’s. I was told by teachers and other adults, not my parents, that girls could not be astronauts. No woman had done that before. Being stubborn, I stuck with wanting to be an astronaut.

In high school, I took all the drafting classes my high school had to offer—mechanical and architectural drafting. I loved them. I wanted to be an architect. I read books on Buckminster Fuller, Frank Lloyd Wright and IM Pei. During my senior year, my dad, a mechanical engineer, said I should look into mechanical engineering, so I did. It sounded like fun.

I applied to General Motors Institute (now, Kettering University) and interviewed at Allison Gas Turbine Division. Working in a plant that made helicopter engines felt a little like “astronaut” and “architect” combined. I was sold. I began working there two weeks after my high school graduation. After earning my degree in mechanical engineering, I stayed on as a project engineer until I left for graduate school.

Dr. Gretchen Hein, front and center, surrounded by students, family, colleagues and friends, just after receiving the 2020 Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award from the Society of Women Engineers


How did you happen to become a SWE advisor?

I was asked to be the SWE advisor when Dr. Sheryl Sorby became the first chair of the Department of Engineering Fundamentals, in 1999. I was new to teaching and unsure of the time commitment involved, so I talked with my colleague, MaryFran Desrochers, and we decided to be SWE co-advisors. We shared advising until 2005 when MaryFran left to spend more time with her family. She returned to campus when her girls were older and now works for Michigan Tech Career Services.

These days there are three SWE advisors: I am in the College of Engineering; MaryFran is our SWE liaison with Career Services, and Elizabeth Hoy at the Great Lakes Research Center helps us manage SWE finances. Our section counselor is alumna Britta Jost, New Product Introduction Manager at Caterpillar Inc. and member of Michigan Tech’s Presidential Council of Alumnae. I’ve always thought that the section was very strategic in choosing their advisors and counselor. We all work together well.

A cobblestone on campus at Michigan Tech shows the date Michigan Tech’s first SWE section was established on campus: 1976.


What do you know now, that you didn’t know then?

Over the past 20 years, my advising style has evolved and grown. At the beginning, I observed. As I learned what the section valued and where their interests were, I began to make suggestions. That’s how SWE’s annual Cider Pressing tradition began at my farm. Students wanted an event outside, and they wanted to meet my sheep, alpacas, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats, bunnies, rats, geckos and bees. Now, it’s the most popular social fall event where over 60 SWE members and friends come, press cider and meet the animals.

Michigan Tech members started to become active nationally in SWE. As I watched them grow, I felt that I needed to join them. I learned, through the students, that we can grow, expand our skills, and contribute, even by “standing in the background.”

Great times! SWE’s Cider Pressing tradition takes place each year at Dr. Hein’s farm. This photo is from 2016.


Have things changed for women engineers since then? If so, how?

One of the reasons I chose Michigan Tech for my doctoral studies was because of the friendliness of the faculty and students. It is still a strong characteristic of Tech. The number of women students, along with faculty, has increased over the past 20 years. There are more opportunities and different areas of study in engineering now. As time has passed, people who were less accepting of differences have left, and those who are interested in diversity and inclusion have become leaders.

The grit and independence of our SWE members haven’t changed. The students are still people who enjoy working, collaborating and learning together.


What is the best part about being an advisor?

The students—hands down! And this includes our graduates. For example, at WE19, I saw Anne Maher (a former SWE section president and member). It was like one of those sappy movies where two people run towards each other. I was so excited to see her and meet her mother. I get the same feeling in the fall when I see our students return to campus. I love to hear how their summer went, where they worked, what they did and what they will be doing at Tech. I always try to attend our fall Ice Cream Social, where we all meet new members. They bring so much excitement to the organization. It’s great to learn where they went to high school and why they came to Tech.

Dr. Hein uses duck feet to help teach thermodynamics.

Your happiest time so far?

My happiest time is reconnecting. Every time I attend a SWE conference, I see so many of our graduates. Frequently, they recall “Duck Day” when I bring a duck into ENG3200, Thermodynamics/Fluid Mechanics. It’s a fun day because students get to pet, hold and see a duck. It’s a learning day because the arteries and veins in the ducks’ legs exchange heat to help regulate the duck’s body temperature.

SWE section members celebrate with Dr. Gretchen Hein at the news of her SWE Outstanding Advisor Award.

What motivates you?

The students make Michigan Tech. They motivate me. Like most people with doctorates, I had taken no classes on how to help others learn. My goal was to create a classroom environment that encouraged learning and discussion. At first, I did not succeed, but I really wanted to be the type of instructor where students came to class, enjoyed the class and learned—probably in that order. I kept talking with the Jackson Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) at Michigan Tech. I was one of the first instructors to use online videos and blended learning. My students had told me that they were willing to learn material outside of class if we worked through more problems in class, so I learned how to make my course more efficient, to gain that extra time. I began to tell stories in class about my family, my industrial projects, TED talks—anything that would grab their interest and keep them laughing and thinking. I focused on how the course material could be applied to their careers; I invited former students to come talk about their careers in class. Last but not least, I related how much I struggled with Thermo when I studied it in college.

“Dr. Hein is supportive of her students and does her best to ensure each of us have all the tools and resources to flourish, both academically and professionally. She teaches valuable life skills for navigating the professional world as a female engineer, and serves as an exemplary role model.”

Erin Murdoch ’17

Your advice for future engineers?

For me, this question is personal. My son will be graduating in the spring with a degree in electrical engineering from Michigan Tech.

My advice is this: Find what you enjoy and do it, but realize that there will be times when the job is not exciting or that the challenges seem insurmountable. When visiting companies and during the interview process, see if you can visualize working with the people and in that environment. Each company has its own personality and so do you. You want these to mesh well. Figure out what type of community you’re happy in. It’s much easier to go to work when you like where you’re at. Use your contacts and resources.

I encourage everyone to keep learning and exploring, both at work and personally. The great thing is that sometimes growth in one area results in growth in another.

What do you want others to know about Michigan Tech’s SWE section?

The SWE section at Michigan Tech values outreach. And their commitment to SWE continues long after they graduate. Many are involved in their professional section and at the national level.

Members of the local SWE section are holding a thank you letter-writing campaign to show Dr. Hein appreciation for all of the hard work she has put in to help it succeed, and to congratulate her on her award. Send your letters to us here, at this address.


David Shonnard: Waste Plastics are Taking Over the World—the Solution is Circular

Chemical Engineering Professor David Shonnard, shown here at Gratiot River State Park, a remote beach in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

David Shonnard shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 9 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Chemical Engineering Professor David Shonnard founded Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/9 at 6 ET? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Chemical Engineering Professor David Shonnard, longtime director and founder of Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute. Last week he won Michigan Tech’s 2020 Research Award.

During Husky Bites, Shonnard promises to shed some light and some hope on waste plastics—the role they play in our society and economy and their harm to the environment, especially the oceans and its biodiversity.

He’ll also take us on a walk down a remote Lake Superior beach to hunt for waste plastics, show us what he and his students found, where they found it, and what that means.

Felix Adom, one of Prof. Shonnard’s graduate students will join in, too. Dr. Adom grew up in Ghana, attending Kwame Nkrumah’ University of Science and Technology in Kumasi for his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He earned his PhD in Chemical Engineering at Michigan Tech in 2012, and then worked as a post-doc researcher and energy analyst at Argonne National Lab. He then joined Shell as greenhouse gas intensity assessment technologist, and is now carbon strategy analyst at Shell.

Felix Adom earned his PhD in chemical engineering at Michigan Tech in 2012.

Shonnard founded and is fully devoted to Michigan Tech’s Sustainable Futures Institute, which brings together undergraduate students, graduate students, scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines in research and education projects. SFI members—more than 100 on campus—address technical, economic, and social issues related to the sustainable use of the Earth’s limited resources.

During his time at Michigan Tech, Adom was a member of SFI. On one project, he worked with a team of students in Shonnard’s hydrolysis lab to analyze a waste product of the wet mill corn ethanol industry—a thick, caramel-colored syrup. Ethanol production from corn creates an abundance of corn byproducts—seven pounds for every one gallon of ethanol according to some estimates. The syrup came by way of Working Bugs LLC, a green chemical manufacturer based in East Lansing, Michigan. Adom and the team identified the chemical make-up of the syrup and helped determine its value as a possible feedstock. They also discovered ways to convert the syrup, a waste stream, into a sugar- and amino acid-rich fermentation medium for other biofuels.

Today Adom is based in Richmond, Texas, not far from Houston. He is a carbon strategy analyst for Shell. “When I joined this team in 2016, it was a small group of 5 people. Today our team has 40 people and it is heavily funded.”

“Ever since Felix graduated, I have proudly watched from a distance the terrific trajectory of his career,” says Shonnard. He’s now helping a major oil company to develop their strategies to be more sustainable. I am really happy to see that.”

Some of the waste plastics collected at Gratiot River Beach.

The beach study, performed by chemical engineering undergraduates Mahlon Bare and Jacob Zuhlke, focused on identifying and quantifying macroplastic particles discovered on a beach along Lake Superior on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan within Gratiot River County Park. The park receives little foot traffic and is located in a remote part of the Peninsula. Searching five 100-foot sites spaced 1000 feet apart, the team gathered any visible surface plastic. They also processed sand dug from one-ft. deep holes. Researchers took samples of recovered plastic pieces and analyzed their composition using a micropyrolysis process and gas chromatography/ mass spectrometry (GC/MS) system. No microplastics were discovered in the sand.

“Technology enables a circular flow of recycling. Right now, waste plastics are a cost, but they could be of value if we can convert them back into other, reusable forms. If they have value, then they’re less likely to get thrown out.”

David Shonnard, Chemical Engineering Professor and the Richard and Bonnie Robbins Chair in Sustainable Use of Materials at Michigan Technological University

Prof. Shonnard, how did you become focused on sustainability as a chemical engineer? 

“During my PhD at UC Davis, my advisor allowed me to take courses and conduct research outside of the traditional discipline of chemical engineering, so I could apply my skills to environmental problems. Once at Michigan Tech, our culture of collaboration across campus stimulated my research into areas of sustainable bioenergy and more recently into waste plastic recycling.”

What are the most important things all engineers should know about sustainability?

“Engineers, in my experience, often think a problem can be solved using the skills we possess. Unfortunately, this is not true when it comes to sustainability. Engineers need to collaborate outside their fields of expertise, with environmental scientists, economists, social scientists, and others to address these challenges.”

Characterizing the waste plastics in Dr. Shonnard’s lab at Michigan Tech.

When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

As a young man searching for my career direction, among other things I restored old classic Porsche automobiles.  This sparked my interest in engineering and to gain a deeper understanding about how the parts of the vehicle worked.  My freshman year included chemistry, which I loved, and when combined with my interests in math I decided on chemical engineering, and have been super happy ever since.    

Hometown, Hobbies, Family? 

My wife, Gisela, is originally from Germany and before that Brazil, so international travel is in our DNA.  With Gisela and my two children (now grown and into their careers), we traveled a lot to Germany and Europe more broadly to visit relatives.  My only sabbatical was in Germany at a global chemical company headquartered in Ludwigshafen, Germany (can you guess the company?).  My sustainability research included collaborations in Central and S. America (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina). 


Mary Raber: Solving Wicked Problems

Mary Raber shares her knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, November 2 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

What are you doing for supper this Monday night 11/2 at 6? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Mary Raber, Chief Doing Officer of IDEAhub, Michigan Tech’s collaborative working group for educational innovation. Joining in will be Brad Turner, one of Mary’s former students, who earned his BS in Software Engineering 2017. He started his career at Handshake SF and recently joined Blackfynn Philly.

In this Husky “bite” you will be introduced to how Michigan Tech is using design thinking to reimagine education for the 21st century, and how Brad has used the process in his work after graduation.

Mary Raber

A professor of practice, Raber serves as assistant dean for academic programs in Michigan Tech’s Pavlis Honors College. She’s also co-director of Husky Innovate (Michigan Tech’s resource hub for innovation & entrepreneurship). A design-thinking and innovation enthusiast, Raber loves to help others embrace the tools and mindsets of innovation to effect positive change. 

While earning his software engineering degree at Michigan Tech, Brad Turner joined the Pavlis Honors College. He worked as student coordinator for the Innovation Program within the PHC Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship, and that’s when he met Raber. “Mary became my mentor,” he said.

Brad Turner

Nowadays, Turner is a product designer, one who recently made the switch from building tools that help college students find jobs, to designing software that improves the treatment of neurological diseases. 

During Husky Bites, Raber and Turner will introduce the design thinking process, developed at the Stanford d.school. 

“Design thinking is a tool to help you reframe life’s challenges into opportunities,” says Raber. “It’s a process widely used to solve messy, wicked problems,” she explains. “At its core is the human…those whose lives we are trying to improve in some way.  The process fosters mindsets and skills that enables anyone, young and old, to tackle ambiguous problems.”

Design Thinking: Emphathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test

After a 14-year career in the automotive industry, Raber first joined Michigan Tech to lead the implementation and growth of the highly distinctive undergraduate Enterprise Program. She helped found the Pavlis Honors College, where she now facilitates learning in leadership, human-centered design, and lean start-up. 

Raber was honored with Michigan Tech’s Faculty Distinguished Service Award in 2018. “Through Mary’s exceptional dedication and efforts, opportunities and resources for innovation and entrepreneurship on our campus have grown substantially,” said Lorelle Meadows, dean of the Pavlis Honors College.

Over the years Raber has co-founded several start-ups (“some of which have been successful, and some that haven’t fared as well,” she says). She’s currently pursuing a PhD at Michigan Tech with a focus on engineering education, and working on developing another start-up to help bring her passion for innovative teaching and learning to others. 

“Design thinking is a tool to help you reframe life’s challenges into opportunities.”

Mary Raber

Raber has cultivated a strong relationship with the Stanford d.school, opening up additional avenues for student exploration and education. Through this collaboration, Michigan Tech has a highly active group of University Innovation Fellows (UIF).

“Fellows work to ensure that their peers gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to make a positive impact on the world,” Raber explains. “They attend training at Stanford’s d.school, where they can meet students from across the country engaged in change-making on their own campuses.” Michigan Tech’s UIFs engage with incoming first-year students during orientation week, exposing them early on to powerful entrepreneurial tools and resources.

Turner was a University Innovation Fellow during his years at Michigan Tech. He worked closely with Raber to develop and launch Michigan Tech’s first-ever makerspace, The Alley, located on campus in the Memorial Union Building. He facilitated design thinking classes, and developed a visual language for Alley.

Some of Michigan Tech’s Innovation Fellows exploring the Google campus in Mountain View, CA during a UIF meetup. Brad is second from the left. Looks like fun!

“I went through the (UIF) training with the Stanford d.school during my second year at Tech,” Turner recalls. “It was an 8-week online course where we learned about design thinking. “When I started working on more initiatives related to UIF, I found myself continually looking to Mary for advice, guidance, and support on those initiatives. By the time I graduated, Mary and I worked on a variety of projects together and presented our work together on campus and at national conferences.”

A group of student volunteers helped build tables for Michigan Tech’s Alley Makerspace when it launched.

In 2014 Turner took an internship at Handshake, a company founded 2014 by three engineering students at Michigan Tech to give students access to a larger number of potential employers, no matter their location. Turner worked in the company’s first small office in Houghton, then moved with them to San Francisco for a second internship. Upon graduation he joined the company, helping grow its design system and processes as the Handshake team grew from 35 to over 200 employees.

As Handshake’s lead designer on a variety of projects, Turner collaborated with project managers to dig into challenges and articulate compelling problem statements. He conducted user research and user testing, and partnered with engineers to deliver high quality, accessible experiences.

Turner recently moved from Handshake to Blackfynn, a company that seeks to transform the treatment of neurological disease—including Parkinson’s disease, which affects nearly one million people in the US—with data-driven, next-generation therapeutics.

Raber was honored with Michigan Tech’s Faculty Distinguished Service Award in 2018.

Mary, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I enjoyed math, science and design in high school, so engineering seemed like a logical next step. My concentration was in biomechanics and I was hooked on the connections between health and engineering with my first internship at UMich hospitals where I tested hypodermic needles on cadavers. I was very fortunate to get my first job after graduation at Chrysler Motors working with an all female engineering team to design the sensing and diagnostics systems for the first mass-produced airbag systems. It’s led me to fascinating careers in automotive electronics and now engineering education.

Hometown, Hobbies, Family? 

I have lived in Michigan all my life, moving back and forth from lower Michigan to the UP several times. I’m easing into the empty nester life while my son lives nearby and attends Michigan Tech, and occasionally brings his laundry home. I love to travel and have had the opportunity to visit many wonderful places around the world.  In my spare time I enjoy hiking, gardening, skiing, and creating through hobbies like baking, knitting, and quilting.  

Brad, How did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

After watching too much Grey’s Anatomy in high school, I was sure that I wanted to be a surgeon when I grew up. I was also interested in technology, so instead of thinking about going to med school, I decided to study biomedical engineering to blend my interests in medicine and technology. (My interest in biomed only lasted a year before I discovered design thinking and decided to switch to software engineering).

Brad made the move to Philly after running the Philadelphia Marathon last year.

Hometown, Hobbies, Family?

I grew up in Bay City, Michigan. My older brother was studying mechanical engineering at Michigan Tech and I really enjoyed Houghton when I came to visit him. After spending a weekend on campus with the Leading Scholars program during my senior year of high school, I knew it was the right place for me. I’ve spent the past 4 years in San Francisco and recently (during the pandemic) found a new home with my partner in Philadelphia. Outside of work you’ll normally find me running along the Schuylkill River, trying out a new recipe in my kitchen, or virtually volunteering to help get out the vote this November.


Paul Bergstrom: Nanoscaled Epic Fails!

A cell of eight SET (single electron transistor) devices at room temperature. Paul Bergstrom, an electrical engineering professor at Michigan Tech, created the first operating SET of any kind accomplished with focused ion beam technology, the second demonstration of room temperature SET behavior in the US, and sixth in the world.

Paul Bergstrom shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 26 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Doing anything for supper this Monday night at 6? Grab a bite with Dean Janet Callahan and Professor Paul Bergstrom for “Nanoscale Epic Fails!” Joining in will be one of Bergstrom’s former students, Tom Wallner, now an R&D engineer at PsiQuantum.

At Michigan Tech, ECE Prof. Bergstrom and his team of student researchers develop nanoelectronic devices.  The effort takes them down some (seemingly) impossible pathways. 

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” It’s one of Prof. Paul Bergstrom’s favorite lines from Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.

“Nanoscaled materials and devices that leverage quantum—or nearly quantum—scales enable extraordinary behavioral changes that can be very useful in sensing and electronics,” he says.

“Conducting research in this area constantly demonstrates that what we think we know is not always everything we need to know about how atoms and molecules interact. One experimental failure leads to understanding for the next. It’s a life lesson under the microscope.

“With the scientific method, we have an idea. We know where we want to go. We create a path to get there. Depending on our results, we decide whether or not we’re on the right path,” he explains.

Working in the nanoscale, it’s all about the size of things, he says. Bergstrom and his team use focused ion beam (FIB) systems to fabricate electrical devices at the nanoscale, using elemental gallium. He’ll explain the process in detail during his session on Husky Bites.

“We can see down to the 10s of hundreds of atoms and molecules, and see quantum mechanical effects that take place,” he says. “Many nanodevices exhibit quantum mechanical electronic behavior at subzero temperatures. There are lots of blind alleys we need to map out in order to understand where to go next with our research.”

“Experimental failure is not final. There can be success through failure, even epic failure.”

Paul Bergstrom

Bergstrom and his team had a goal: make a single electron transistor (SET) operable at room temperature. And they did: Theirs was the first operating SET of any kind accomplished with focused ion beam technology, the second demonstration of room temperature SET behavior in the US, and sixth in the world.

Room-temperature SETs could someday open up whole new aspects of the electronics industry, says Bergstrom. “Moving to nanoscaled electronic devices such as SETs that rely on quantum behavior will allow us to eliminate leakage current. The SET may also allow technology its continued migration toward high levels of integration—from hundreds of millions of transistors to hundreds of billions of transistors ultimately—so that cost per device will continue to drop at its historic rate, or even faster.”

Bergstrom’s effort goes beyond the SET. “We hope to find ways to create devices ultimately that will not transfer current when they do logic. That is the ‘Holy Grail’ for nanoelectronics. And we are taking that challenge seriously.”

He also takes it in stride. “In research, past failures define the starting place. Current failures define impossible pathways. We know our starting point and our end point. We just don’t know the path in between.” And that’s okay, even good, he says.

Jin and Tom during their college days at Michigan Tech. She earned her PhD in electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. Did they first meet in the lab? We’ll try to find out during Husky Bites.

Michigan Tech alum Tom Wallner graduated from Michigan Tech with a BS in 2002 and an MS in ‘04, both in electrical engineering. “From my undergrad work and throughout my career I’ve built things,” he says. “I’ve always been especially interested in building small things.” That fascination has led Wallner to some amazing places and workplaces. He also found the love of his life at Michigan Tech, Jin Zheng-Wallner.

After graduation, Wallner spent time at Sandia National Labs, and then joined IBM doing microelectronics R&D, including time spent in South Korea for IBM, working with Samsung. After nearly a decade Wallner moved to GLOBALFOUNDRIES, “a company formed out of a bunch of fabs.” (AKA chip fabricators). Then one day Wallner’s career path took a fortuitous turn. “Some old IBM buddies knocked on my door, some very good friends. They said, ‘Hey Tom, do you want to try this photonics stuff?”

“It turns out testing photonics devices is a wide open field,” he says. “Not many people have a background and skill set in that area. I thought to myself, well, I know a little about photonics, I’ll just go figure it out.” Wallner went to work at SUNY Polytechnic Institute as an integrated photonic test engineer. 

Recently Wallner joined PsiQuantum, a startup based in Silicon Valley. “Our mission is to build the world’s first useful quantum computer. We’re taking a photonic path to that, which is different than most quantum computing,” he says.

As a student at Michigan Tech, Wallner worked on a team that developed an unmanned vehicle. “It looked like a bumblebee—300 pounds of unmanned robotics, with cameras on it. We navigated it on a course we set up out on the Michigan Tech golf course.”

Wallner was a management advisor in Douglas Houghton Hall (DHH) and president of Michigan Tech’s IEEE chapter for 4 years. “I was in charge of the building.  If a hallway light went out, or a door got jammed, OR the one time there was a water line break and a whole floor flooded–that was my responsibility,” he recalls.

“Tom not only renovated the IEEE student lab—he even secured industry sponsorship to cover the costs,” says Bergstrom. The Kimberly Clarke plaque still hangs outside the door of Room 809 in the EERC.”

“Tom also started building the MFF for me, and he developed the tool set for our room temperature SET research,” notes Bergstrom. Today the Microfabrication Shared Facility (MFF) at Michigan Tech provides resources for micro- and nano-scaled research and development of solid state electronics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), lab-on-a-chip, and microsystems materials and devices, serving researchers across campus and across the country.

Prof. Bergstrom, when did you first get into engineering? 

I knew I wanted to be, specifically, an electrical engineer by the time I was 16. I am the son of an analytical chemist who trained chemical technicians for industry. When donated tools would come into his teaching laboratory, I would come in and either fix them or disassemble them and recycle the components that could be processed. A passion for high-end audio also led me to analog amplifier design and speaker assembly. My desire to learn about the coupled electromechanical physics and engineering in audio as a young teenager sparked my interest in electronics and microelectromechanical systems—and launched my career at the micro- and nanoscale.

An “Ent” from Lord of the Rings.

Hometown, Hobbies, Family?

I grew up in the suburbs of the Twin Cities of Minnesota with family roots in northwestern Wisconsin. After formative years in Minnesota came graduate school in Michigan, semiconductor research with Motorola, Inc. in Arizona, and the last 20 years in the Keweenaw as faculty. I have too many hobbies and acquired skills outside of my profession, but they mostly revolve around musical enjoyment and performance, or enjoying and utilizing the northern forest and timber, or both. My wife calls me an “ent” (one of those mythical tree creatures who move and talk in the Lord of the Rings).

ECE Alumnus Tom Wallner ’02 04 is now an R&D Engineer at PsiQuantum

Tom, how did you find engineering? 

I started getting interested way back in grade school when I learned that you can make electromagnets with a lantern battery, a nail, and some wire. Later, in high school, my part time job was at a family owned electronics shop. I loved working with customers to help solve their problems. This was back in the day of mobile phones being “bag phones” and then I saw the transition to smaller phones. I remember being blown away by the Motorola Startac flip phone. When I graduated high school, I wanted to take the next step and learn more about how such cool devices work and how they are made.

Hobbies and Interests?

I was born and raised in Ashland, Wisconsin. My parents still live in the house I grew up in. I enjoy playing trombone, hunting, fishing, woodworking, and language learning. I met my wife,  Jin, at Michigan Tech. She earned her PhD in electrical engineering at Michigan Tech, advised by Dr. Bergstrom. Our two sons, now aged 10 and 12, know all the technical jargon and acronyms. They talk about “SOP” (Standard Operating Procedure) while doing the dishes, and BKM (Best Known Method) while putting them away! 


Erik Herbert: Holy Grail! Energy Storage on the Nanoscale

Ever wondered what a materials science engineer sees on their computer screen on any given day? Here’s what Dr. Erik Herbert and his team are focused on.

Erik Herbert shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar tonight, Monday, October 12 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Tonight’s Husky Bites delves directly into our phones, laptops and tablets, on how to make them cleaner, safer, faster, and more environmentally friendly. It’s about materials, and how engineers focus on understanding, improving inventing materials to solve big problems.

MSE Assistant Professor Erik Herbert

Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Prof. Erik Herbert is focused on the lithium metal inside the batteries that power our devices. Lithium is an extremely reactive metal, which makes it prone to misbehavior. But it is also very good at storing energy. 

Optical microscope image showing residual hardness impressions in a high purity, vapor deposited, polycrystalline lithium thin film. The indents are approximately 1 micron deep and spaced by 35 microns in the plane of the surface (1 micron is a millionth of a meter). Among the key takeaways are the straight edges connecting the 3 corners of each impression and the lack of any discernible slip steps or terraces surrounding the periphery of the contact. Now, if you’re wondering what this means, be sure to catch Dr. Herbert’s session on Husky Bites.

“We want our devices to charge as quickly as possible, and so battery manufacturers face twin pressures: Make batteries that charge very quickly, passing a charge between the cathode and anode as fast as possible, and make the batteries reliable despite being charged repeatedly,” he says. 

On campus at Michigan Tech, Dr. Herbert and his research team explore how lithium reacts to pressure by drilling down into lithium’s smallest and arguably most befuddling attributes. Using a diamond-tipped probe, they deform thin film lithium samples under the microscope to study the behavior on the nanoscale.

“Lithium doesn’t behave as expected during battery operation,” says Herbert.  Mounting pressure occurs during the charging and discharging of a battery, resulting in microscopic fingers of lithium called dendrites. These dendrites fill pre-existing microscopic flaws—grooves, pores and scratches—at the interface between the lithium anode and the solid electrolyte separator.

During continued cycling, these dendrites can force their way into, and eventually through, the solid electrolyte layer that physically separates the anode and cathode. Once a dendrite reaches the cathode, the device short circuits and fails, sometimes catastrophically, with heat, fire and explosions.

Pictured: High-purity indium, which is a mechanical surrogate to lithium. It can be used to make electrical components and low melting alloys. “Note the scale marker,” says Herbert. “That distance is 5 millionths of a meter. The image was taken in a scanning electron microscope and shows the residual hardness impression from a 550 nm deep indent. The key noteworthy feature is the extensive pile-up around the edges of the contact, which suggests a deformation mechanism that conserves volume.”

Improving our understanding of this fundamental issue will directly enable the development of a stable interface that promotes safe, long-term and high-rate cycling performance.

“Everybody is just looking at the energy storage components of the battery,” says Herbert. “Very few research groups are interested in understanding the mechanical elements. But low and behold, we’re discovering that the mechanical properties of lithium itself may be the key piece of the puzzle.”

Dr. Iver Anderson is a senior metallurgist at Ames Lab, an inventor, and a Michigan Tech alumnus.

Iver Anderson, PhD will be Dean Callahan’s co-host during the session. Dr. Anderson is a Michigan Tech alum and senior metallurgical engineer at Ames Lab, a US Department of Energy National Lab. A few years ago, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, for inventing a successful lead-free solder alloy, a revolutionary alternative to traditional tin/lead solder used for joining less fusible metals such as electric wires or other metal parts, and in circuit boards.

As a result, nearly 20,000 tons of lead are no longer released into the environment worldwide. Low-wage recyclers in third-world countries are no longer exposed to large concentrations of this toxic material, and much less lead leaches from landfills into drinking water supplies. 

“There is no safe lead level,” says Anderson. “Science exists to solve problems, but I believe the questions have to be relevant. The motivation is especially strong to solve a problem when somebody says it is not possible to solve it,” he adds. “It makes me feel warm inside to have solved one problem that will help us going on into the future.”

Anderson earned his BS in Metallurgical Engineering in 1975 from Michigan Tech. “It laid the foundation of my network of classmates and professors, which I have continued to expand,” he said.

Anderson went on to earn his MS and PhD in Metallurgical Engineering from University of Wisconsin-Madison. After completing his studies in 1982, he joined the Metallurgy Branch of the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC.

With a desire to return to the Midwest, he took a position at Ames Lab in 1987 and has spent the balance of his research career there and at Iowa State.

“I hope our work has a significant impact on the direction people take trying to develop next-gen storage devices.”

Erik Herbert

Professor Herbert, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

The factors that got me interesting engineering revolved around my hobbies. First it was through BMX bikes and the changes I noticed in riding frames made from aluminum rather than steel. Next it was rock climbing, and realizing that the hardware had to be tailor made and selected to accommodate the type of rock or the type or feature within the rock. Here’s a few examples: Brass is the optimal choice for crack systems with small quartz crystals. Steel is the better choice for smoothly tapered constrictions. Steel pins need sufficient ductility to take on the physical shape of a seam or crack. Aluminum cam lobes need to be sufficiently soft to “bite” the rock, but robust enough to survive repeated impact loads. Then of course there is the rope—what an interesting marvel—the rope has to be capable of dissipating the energy of a fall so the shock isn’t transferred to the climber. Clearly, there is a lot of interesting materials science and engineering going on here.

Hometown, hobbies?

I am originally from Boston, but was raised primarily in East Tennessee. Since 2015, my wife Martha and I have lived in Houghton with our three youngest children. Since then, all but one have taken off on their own. When I’m not working, we enjoy visiting family, riding mountain bikes, learning to snowboard, and watching a good movie.

Dr. Iver Anderson’s invention of lead free solder was 15 years (at least) in the making.

Dr. Anderson, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I grew up in Hancock, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. Right out my back door was a 40 acre wood that all the kids played in. The world is a beautiful place, especially nature. That was the kind of impression I grew up with. My father was observant and very particular, for instance, about furniture and cabinetry. He taught me how to look for quality, the mark of a craftsman, how to sense a thousandth of an inch. I carry that with me today.


Orhan Soykan: How to Become a Prolific Inventor

Orhan Soykan shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar this Monday, October 5 at 6 pm ET. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Join Dean Janet Callahan for supper along with Orhan Soykan, a prolific inventor and professor of practice in biomedical engineering at Michigan Tech with more than 100 patents to his name. Joining in will be one of Dr. Soykan’s former students, Tim Kolesar, MD, who earned his biomedical engineering degree at Michigan Tech in 2019 after first completing med school. He’s now a Development Quality Engineer at Abbott.

Who can be an inventor? “Anyone,” says Orhan Soykan. And he should know. Soykan has 37 issued U.S. patents and 66 pending U.S. patents. 

Soykan specializes in implantable devices, biosensors, and molecular medicine. He is the co-founder of two start-ups and has been a consultant to more than 20 firms.

Prolific inventor, scholar, alumnus, electrical engineer, and Professor of Practice, Dr. Orhan Soykan ’86 helped establish Michigan Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

He has long been associated with Michigan Tech, first as a master’s student in electrical engineering (he graduated in 1986), then as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Then, seven years ago, after working 20 years at biomedical device powerhouse Medtronic and several more at startup YouGene, Soykan rejoined the University in a more formal way, as a professor of practice in Michigan Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

He teaches a biomedical instrumentation lab and courses on medical devices, medical imaging, and numerical physics. He also mentors senior design teams of undergraduate students who work on projects for industry clients, the final big design project of their senior year.

Soykan commutes between homes and jobs in Houghton and Minneapolis in a single engine plane. He maintains a research lab in each home, too.

Michigan Tech BME alum, Tim Kolesar ‘19 was one of his students. “Dr. Soykan was my senior design team advisor,” says Kolesar. “Our team (three biomedical engineers and one electrical engineer) all worked together on a project for Stryker, investigating the thermal side effects of a surgical device used in brain surgery.”

Michigan Tech biomedical engineering alumnus Tim Kolesar, MD.

Before coming to Michigan Tech, Kolesar earned a BS in Human Biology from Michigan State University, and then a Doctorate of Medicine from the American University of Antigua College of Medicine, in the Carribean. He also volunteered as a medical practitioner for the Himalyan Health Exchange, providing health care for underserved populations within remote regions along the Indo-Tibetan borderlands.

After graduating from Michigan Tech, Kolesar landed his dream job at Abbott, a multinational medical devices and health care company with headquarters in Abbott Park, Illinois, He works on cardiovascular devices for Abbott, including aortic and mitral heart valve replacements. At the moment he’s lead engineer on two projects, involved in device submission to the FDA in the US, and the EMA (European Medicines Agency) in the European Union.

Kolesar underscores the importance of time spent in the lab. During his time at Tech, he worked as an undergraduate researcher in the labs of biomedical engineering professors Dr. Rupak Rajachar and Dr. Jeremy Goldman, working on tissue engineering for injury repair in joints, and bioabsorbable stents for the heart. “These two opportunities played a large role in confirming my decision to pursue a career in biomedical engineering,” he says. “I believe the lab experience I gained at Michigan Tech played a pivotal role in securing my current role at Abbott.”

How do inventors get their ideas?

“I believe necessity is the mother of all invention. You must truly understand the problem and the boundaries the solution will have,” says Soykan. “After that, it is absolutely necessary to study scientific and engineering principles relevant to the problemAmong all his inventions, Dr. Soykan says he is most proud of those at the intersection of engineering and biology. His favorite: A method of isolating a small portion of a patient’s own heart muscle and converting it into a sensor to monitor levels of an antiarrhythmic heart medication.they will eventually become the tools for the development of the solution. And finally, you must look at work done by others, by reviewing technical literature and patent publications,” he adds.

“Now you are ready to tackle the problem by thinking as creatively as you can. This can be anywhere—outside when running or skiing, driving in traffic—make a list of the solutions you think of and discuss them with your colleagues and experts in the field. Finally, the ones that seem to pass the test, try them in the lab.”

Dr. Soykan, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

I grew up in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey. I became interested in science and technology through my high school physics teacher. Eventually I began to build some electronic circuits as a hobbyist, which eventually turned into a profession.  I cannot forget about the contributions of Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek series. (And yes, I am old enough to remember watching the original episodes each week on TV as a young boy!

What is your favorite out of all your inventions?

Among all my inventions, I am most proud of a method of isolating a small portion of a patient’s own heart muscle and converting it into a sensor to monitor levels of an antiarrhythmic heart medication.

Dr. Orhan Soykan makes the commute between Houghton and Minneapolis at least twice a week.

Hometown, hobbies?

I earned my BS from Middle East Technical University, my MS from Michigan Tech and my PhD from Case Western Reserve University, all in electrical engineering. I worked for NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, the Food and Drug Administration in Rockville, Maryland, and Medtronic in Minneapolis and Tokyo, before becoming a part-time consultant to the medical device industry and a part time faculty member at Michigan Tech. I actually maintain two residences, one in Houghton, and the other in the Twin Cities. I’ve got labs in both homes. I commute weekly between the two locations with my single engine Mooney.  When I am not working or flying, I’m usually busy training for my annual marathon, or cross country skiing at Tech trails. 

Kewee and Birch

Dr. Kolesar, When did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Whether I knew it or not, engineering has always been a part of me. My love for Physiology pushed me towards the world of medicine. However, during my third year of medical school, I had the pleasure of working with an orthopedic surgeon, and mechanical engineer, in Atlanta, Georgia. The experience truly opened my eyes to the realm of biomedical engineering, and sparked a fascination with the possibilities. This eventually led me back to Michigan Tech upon completion of my medical degree. 

Hometown, hobbies?

My wife, Jenn and I were both raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We now reside in the Minneapolis area. During my time at Michigan Tech we loved being able to return to the Upper Peninsula. The Keweenaw quickly became our second home, especially Copper Harbor. We spend our free time biking, nordic and downhill skiing, camping, hiking, running, and exploring the outdoors with our two dogs Kewee (short for Keweenaw) and Birch Bark.

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In a Heartbeat


Bill Sproule: Houghton, Michigan Tech, and the Stanley Cup

The Stanley cup became NHL’s famous trophy in 1927. This is an early version of the trophy, circa 1893.

Bill Sproule shares his knowledge on Husky Bites, a free, interactive webinar on Monday, September 21 at 6 pm EST. Learn something new in just 20 minutes, with time after for Q&A! Get the full scoop and register at mtu.edu/huskybites.

Bill Sproule, civil engineering professor turned hockey historian

What are you doing for supper this Monday night at 6? How about grabbing a bite with Bill Sproule, hockey historian and Michigan Tech civil and environmental engineering professor emeritus, along with Michigan Tech alumnus John Scott, NHL All-Star MVP?

Sproule’s research into hockey history began about 15 years ago when he first volunteered to teach a class on the subject at Michigan Tech. During Husky Bites he plans to share the history of the Stanley Cup and tell how a Canadian-born dentist, Doc Gibson, and his “partner in crime” Houghton entrepreneur James Dee made Houghton the birthplace of professional hockey, several years before the National Hockey League came into existence. He’ll also discuss the role Gibson and Dee played in Michigan Tech hockey.

When and where did hockey begin? A civil engineer in Montreal organized the first amateur game in 1875. Pictured: artists painting of an early hockey game at the Victoria Skating Rink in Montreal, Canada.

Serving as co-host along with Dean Janet Callahan during this session of Husky Bites is John Scott, an inspiration to many and the embodiment of Husky tenacity. 

Sproule and Scott two have a lot in common. A love of hockey, for one. A fondness for Houghton, for another. Both born in Canada. They’re both retired—but not really retired. They’re both authors. Finally, they’re both Michigan Tech engineering alums. Sproule earned his BS in Civil Engineering in 1970. Scott, a practicing engineer, graduated with his BS in Mechanical Engineering 2010. 

We’re proud to claim NHL All-Star MVP John Scott as a Husky. From 2002 to 2006, he provided no-holds-barred defense and effective penalty killing for Michigan Tech.


In college, Scott had no professional hockey ambitions. That was until he met former Huskies Hockey Assistant Coach Ian Kallay. “He said, ‘You can do this. You can make a career out of this. If you put in the work, put in the hours.’ It was a huge moment for me,” Scott recalled.

How does his ME degree impact his game? “It definitely helps me pass a puck. I’m better than most at figuring out a bank pass off the boards. And most guys sharpen their skates to one-half of an inch. But I know how to increase—or not increase—my bore,” he said.

Scott’s wife, alumna Danielle Scott, who earned a BS in biomedical engineering from Michigan Tech in 2006, stepped away from her role with leading biomed company Boston Scientific to care for the couple’s six daughters, one just a few months old. Their oldest is now 8. John works with a mechanical engineering consulting firm in Traverse City. His podcast, Dropping The Gloves, also keeps him busy. “That’s where we talk about hockey, family, and all other things that are going on in my life post-NHL.”

Scott’s number one job, he firmly insists: family. That means raising his six daughters together with Danielle. He says he’s already hoping for number seven.

John Scott has a book out: A Guy Like Me: Fighting to Make the Cut. It’s his personal memoir.

Professor Sproule, when did you first get into engineering? What sparked your interest?

Actually, engineering was not my first choice. I hoped to become an architect but wasn’t accepted into an architectural program. My uncle was a civil engineer, so that’s why I picked civi; I was thinking structural engineering would be similar to architecture, and I was right, in a way!

I spent my first two years learning at Lake Superior State, a branch of Michigan Tech at the time, then came to Houghton for my junior and senior years, where I took a few transportation courses. After graduating from Tech I headed to the University of Toronto for a master’s degree, specializing in transportation engineering.

After earning my graduate degree I worked for Transport Canada and then joined a transportation engineering consulting firm. I always wondered about teaching, and was hired by a community college to help teach their their transportation engineering program. Teaching soon became my passion. Then, I headed to Michigan State University where I earned my Ph.D. in civil engineering, specializing in airport planning and design. I also taught at the University of Alberta and did more consulting before deciding to join the birthplace of Hockey—and, the faculty at Michigan Tech—in 1995.

At Tech, in my role as professor, I conducted research and taught courses in transportation engineering, public transit, airport design, and hockey history. The hockey history course was always full. How in the world did I end up teaching hockey history? I’ll tell the full story during Husky Bites…

Bill Sproule’s book, Houghton, the Birthplace of Professional Hockey, came out in 2018. And he’s got another hockey book in the works.


Family and Hobbies?

I was born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. My wife, Hilary was born and raised on a dairy farm north of Toronto, and earned her degrees from the University of Toronto and University of Alberta. We met in Toronto on a blind date. Together we raised two sons in Houghton. One graduated in engineering at Michigan Tech and Virginia Tech and now works in the Detroit area. The other is currently a graduate student in art history at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. All the while Hilary taught in the Physical Therapy Assistance program at nearby Finlandia University.

We’re now retired, living here in Houghton. I’m still active on several professional committees and serve on the executive committee of the Society for International Hockey Research. I’ve taken a few online courses in my retirement, too: Hockey GM and Scouting, and Hockey Analytics.

I’ve penned two books, Copper Country Streetcars, and Houghton: The Birthplace of Professional Hockey. I’m currently working on my third book project, all about the history of Michigan Tech hockey—and doing some cartooning.

Credit: Dr. Bill Sproule

Read more:

Showing Off a Love of Hockey
Heart of a Husky

Save the Date!

Michigan Tech’s 100-Year Hockey Reunion will be August 5-7, 2021. You’re invited! Learn more here.